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Survey Says 60% of US Wind Turbines May Be Behind in Maintenance

Frontier Pro Services has released the results of an informal survey of approximately 75 wind farm operators in the United States. Designed to assess the specific operation and maintenance service needs of wind energy operators, the survey reveals what could be serious threats to wind farms largely because of the industry-wide shortage of qualified turbine technicians, Frontier said.

According to the findings, many wind farm operations and maintenance teams are so resource constrained that they are barely able to keep up with the unscheduled maintenance repairs their wind turbines require to continue generating electricity. Even regular, scheduled preventative-maintenance like oil changes and gearbox lubrication (services that are often still under warranty) are falling behind as manufacturers face similar resource struggles related to the shortage of qualified technicians.

Gearbox failures account for the largest amount of downtime, maintenance, and lose of power production.  These costly failures can total 15-20% of the price of the turbine itself, making wind turbine and gearbox maintenance a high priority.

“Most gearbox failures are preventable,” said Jack Wallace, lead technical advisor for Frontier Pro Services.  “Most gearboxes fail as a direct result of improper lubrication and lack of routine maintenance. With so many turbines behind on inspections and regular service, there is real cause for concern here,” Mr. Wallace continued.

If oil is not properly monitored and replaced as needed, bearing and gear wear will lead to more serious and costly damage to the drive train. According to Frontier, when a US $1,500 bearing fails unnoticed, it can lead to production loss and revenue loss including an unscheduled replacement of a US $100,000 dollar gearbox and a unscheduled crane cost of up to US $70,000 to access the failed components.

The Frontier Pro Services Operations & Maintenance survey was conducted through a combination of informal phone interviews and in-person meetings with operations and maintenance technicians, wind farm operators, and wind farm owners during the first six months of 2008.

For more information about the survey, click here.

The results of this survey come as earlier this year a 200-foot Vestas wind turbine near the city of Århus in Denmark disintegrated in high winds when a blade came loose and hit the central tower, causing the whole structure to collapse. Two days later a blade broke off of a turbine near Sidinge, Denmark.

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